It was almost six o’clock in the afternoon in Istanbul, city of flowers and charms, the only one in the world to be situated on two continents: Europe and Asia. I arrived at Sabiha Gokcen airport (named in honour of the first woman military aviator in 1936) and the reason of my visit was to spend time with my close friend that was doing her Erasmus in Istanbul. The hairy driver of the Havabus that took us from the airport to the city advised me that we arrived in Kadikoy, district of Istanbul in the Asian side of the city. The sunset was of the indescribable beauty surrounded by the Sea of Marmara where I couldn’t hold myself from taking pictures.
I found myself surrounded by men, women with children, tourists, cats and taxi drivers that never seemed to stop beeping the horn. Out of nowhere, jumped out a boy that tried to sell me pineapple followed by a man that invited me to weight myself.
It was the second time I visited Turkey, first time being in Alanya, and it did not surprise me anymore the commercial spirit of the Turks.
We took a dolmush some sort of yellow minibus, which is more of a public transport to get to Feneryolu district, where my friend was renting a massive flat. After dinner, we went to a pub in a residential area called Caddebostan, filled with small restaurants, not often visited by tourists. I tried Raki, traditional Turkish drink that is made of grapes and aniseed mint. I was not impressed.
As it was only midnight, we decided it was too early to return home so we popped into another place where tea served and water pine was smoked. After looking around I realised there was no other woman around us.
I was awaken by prayer that is being called 5 times a day from minarets, the towers present in the mosques, from which the muezzin invites Allah followers to pray. The Turkish breakfast was amazing that was consisted of different types of cheese or salami, olives, Manemen (scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onions and chillies) and simit (a traditional bread in the shape of a circle with sesame seeds on top).
The thing that amazed me was that they serve French fries for breakfast.
I decided to wonder around the city and to visit Sultanahmed district, which is the heart of the historic old Istanbul and where the Acropolis of Constantinople is located. I jumped on a boat full of people from Kadikoy to get to Eminonu district, the European side of the city. I enjoyed the sea view with its seagulls fluttering and far away, I could see a glimpse of Yemi Cami mosque.
I was amazed by this colourful district that was full of tourists and tulips, where I felt carefree and calm surrounded by street artists and gypsies playing their instruments, between flower vendors or men selling corn on the cob near historical places.
I did not see boredom in the Turkish faces, there was no disappointment, no crisis, and they laughed and observed you. They were so gentle, so welcoming and so hospitable, I would say “asphyxiating”, characterized by exasperated nationalism.
I found myself in front of the main monuments of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, built as a Cristian cathedral dedicated to Holy Wisdom, inaugurated by emperor Giustiniano in 537. Transformed in mosque in 1453 by Mehmet II during the conquest of Constantinople, who added minarets and covered the walls with mosaics. Today is it a museum, turned by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (first Turkish president) in 1935, which removed the plasters that covered the mosaics.
Not the usual mosque, not the usual church, not the usual museum, not the usual dome.
All unusual, Islamic religious symbols coexist in perfect harmony with Christian symbols and “Virgin with the baby” combines perfectly with eight large medallions hanging on the walls that redefined the names of Muslim prophets.
After a couple of hours I was inside of the Yerebatan Sarayi (the Basilica Cistern, a submerged palace ) that is around 140 metres long, illuminated by different reddish lights, which make the color of the 336 columns that emerge from the water less intense. Between the columns I stopped on two of them which are resting on the Medusa’s head intentionally one from the profile and another one upside down (One of the three Gorgons who had the power to petrify anyone who crossed her sight). Before leaving the palace, I took some pictures as a memory dressed in traditional clothes worn by women during the Ottoman Empire.
I was hungry and find a place to eat in Istanbul is the easiest thing in the world.
I stopped in small restaurant, which prepares “Pide” the delicious Turkish pizza, which is like a starter and advised by my friend I tasted Mercimek (red lentil soup served with lemon).
Sated and satisfied, I headed to the impotent and crowded Blue Mosque that took its name from the very majestic Iznik majolica present on inner blueprints, exactly 21.043 tiles in blue and green, illuminated by the light that filters through 260 small windows in the Prayer Room.
I had a feeling that Istanbul is also the city of bodyguards and photographers, those who keep you company by following you while you are buying something or taking pictures of you without asking your permission. Maybe I exaggerated with the lipstick. It was my personal feelings.
I was in a perfect city in its imperfection.
In the evening, we went dancing and because of the considerable distances between neighbourhoods, we were obliged to get a taxi. Coming out of the club, I saw people in the street at 4 in the morning eating rise with mussels and pepper, it didn’t surprise me after seeing French fries for breakfast.
After 5 hours rest, awake but still asleep, I arrived at the headquarters of the Ottoman Empire the Topkapi Palace that was used as private residence for sultans.
Inside the First Court, I purchased the ticket to enter the Second court, where I rushed immediately into the Sultan’s Harem trying to imagine the wives and concubines that were living ruled by the Valid Sultan (the mother of the reigning Sultan). It is useless to say that the splendour is everywhere, in fact in this Court the celebrations for the coronation were held.
I was heading to the Third court, impatient to see Imperial Treasure pavilion and the Library of Ahmet III, where the Spoonmaker’s Diamond (86 karat) and the Topkapi Dagger (decorated with emeralds) were kept. After 15 min of being enchanted by the jewels, from where it took me great effort to leave, I arrived to Hall of Sacred Relics: The pots of Abraham, Moses stick, the Mantle of Mohamed.
Walking I arrived to the Forth Court, the outside garden of the Topkapi Palace, known as the Rose Park. The immense passion for the plants hit my eye and my heart, located in a panoramic position on the Bosporus and on the Sea of Marmara.
I was on the Istiklal Street, the pedestrian street of shopping, which culminates in Taksim Square, seen in magazines and newspapers, on the news, where events take place and where the Monument of Republic is located (1928). We decided to go and meet a Turkish friend.
A meeting of different languages and cultures, Moldovan, Russian, Italian and Turkish, a gathering of nationalities just like Istanbul is.
In the square, I stopped to try Kunefe, a desert made of cheese pastry soaked in sugar-based syrup, which can be tasted in particular small restaurant.
The awakening in the morning was traumatic, worsened by lunch, when I tried to eat a sandwich with fish (Balik) seasoned with a quint of onion. I took a coffee and I made my way towards the Grand Bazar and the Market of spices.
Looking for Aladdin’s lamp, I found a carpet for just 60 euro.
While a woman was singing a heart-breaking song, the stalls with exposed leather attracted me where I spent the entire Turkish lira I had with me, borrowing from friends a little bit more money to buy more junk. Shopping makes me happy.
After that I decided to admire the sunset from the top of the Galata Tower, where I arrived by walking from Sultanahmed crossing the bridge that unites Europe and Asia. Constructed by the Genoese, it becomes even more fascinating by night when it is illuminated, from where you can enjoy a magnificent sunset with a wonderful 360-degree view over Turkish mega polis.
On my return home to prepare the luggage , I had only strength to go out for dinner. I realised I need another holiday to recover from holiday.